Canada is getting ready to legalize and regulate cannabis on all levels, and it seems like the provinces have been left to create their own policy regarding the process. The Liberal government has expressed its main focus and concern regarding legalization: taxing it, regulating the supply of it, and keeping it out of the hands of young people.In all of this talk, there seems to be little focus on the continued plight of the medical cannabis user in Canada.
Last week Ontario revealed their plans for recreational cannabis, which involves a government monopoly, a plan that has been getting plenty of criticism from all angles (CBC, BNN, lawyers). Much of the disapproval comes from those who appreciate the products and expertise of their local dispensary, with others concerned about establishing a new bureaucracy that will add to the costs of the consumer and the taxpayer alike.
But there is a bigger issue that goes beyond the fight between the industry and the politicians. The point that is being missed, and cannot be overlooked, is that we must continue to look out for the patients. It seems like this first provincial proposal was only focused on the recreational side of legalization. The reason for this might be because the provincial government believes the current medicinal framework is good enough. But this is far from true. Even though some semblance of a medical framework in place, it is not nearly sufficient and must be included and considered when creating such policy for the future.
Not Looking Out For The Needs Of The Patients
Legalizing recreational cannabis opens it up to the dynamic of the free market. This makes cannabis susceptible to the laws of supply and demand. We can clearly see the high demand Canadians have for cannabis, and this could potentially result in an increase in price depending on the taxation and supply. By treating cannabis solely as a commodity and not as a medicine, the government is assuming that legalizing recreational cannabis will cover all of their bases. But if the liberal government wants to legalize cannabis, and do it properly, they will have to consider that it is not just an average good on the market. It is both a commodity and a medicine and they must account for both demands and create appropriate policies. By treating cannabis exclusively as a commodity, patients will encounter more obstacles to access their medicine.
The Cost Of Access
Cost is the number one obstacle for access for medicinal patients. While the current MMPR allows patients to order dried cannabis from licensed producers, the cost of this medication can add up considerably. According to Cannimed, medicinal cannabis patients consume between 1-3 grams of cannabis per day this amount can vary depending on the patient’s tolerance and the condition they are treating. The average cost per gram from an LP varies from 6.81$ to 11.87$. This means that if a cancer patient needs to consume 3 grams of cannabis per day they are looking at paying between 613$-1,068$ per month just on cannabis. This is highly unaffordable and adds another burden to the pile of worries for someone who should be focused on healing.
Furthermore, While Canada has create the MMPR and ACMPR to allow patients to access medical cannabis it is currently not covered by provincial or private drug plans. Despite it being categorized and even prescribed as a medicine it is not recognized as one on the insurance or health care level.
When we legalize cannabis recreationally and give no afterthought to the medical framework, patients end up paying out of pocket for their medicine. This shows a lack of compassion for what some patients are going through as they deal with the stress and worry that comes with their illness, now there is an added burden of financial pressure. The Liberal government must consider the big picture and the consequences of overly simplified policy. It doesn’t make sense for a viable medication to be subjected to the whim of the free market when no other medication is treated in such a way in this country.
Obstruction of Patient Use
The Ontario government has taken it upon themselves to prohibit cannabis consumption in public places, designating it to be used only in the home. But does this not infringe upon the rights of patients to use their medication as needed in the appropriate setting? A patient cannot consume cannabis in a park or while going for a walk or anywhere else without risk of arrest. People can consume tobacco in many public places without an issue, but cannabis is being treated differently despite being significantly less physically harmful and having legitimate medicinal uses and properties. This kind of policy is an obstruction to patient rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Licenses for smoke lounges and the creation of designated smoking areas has been overlooked entirely by provinces and municipalities up to this point.
Let’s Remember Why We Began Legalizing Cannabis To Begin With:
The only reason cannabis is being considered to be legalized is because of the numerous court battles that took place, some of which lasted over a decade, and many of them were taken all the way to the Supreme court. Cases that were led by those seeking cannabis to treat their ailments or to provide treatment for others. People like Parker, Smith, Allard, etc, fought for their right with blood and sweat to access something that they had to prove, in the court of law, was an effective treatment (sometimes only effective treatment) for their condition in some way.
From these cases precedents were made over and over again as the prohibition of cannabis infringed on the rights of sick canadians. The laws were forced to change if they were to be aligned with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Once proven unconstitutional there was no other option but to adapt the laws to accommodate.
We cannot forget about the patients that brought us here. Their needs should be considered more important than the needs of the recreational supply and demand. The patients that brought cannabis to the legal mainstream should be the ones benefiting from it the most. We believe that supporting patients, improving medical access, and furthering cannabis research should be just as much of a focus, if not more, for policy development.
A Lack In Research And Understanding
There is also a prominent issue with the lack of understanding cannabis its properties and risks. This lack of understanding is widespread throughout the public and often includes those who are currently responsible for making cannabis laws. This all stems from legal blocks to the scientific research of cannabis, as well as the long standing social stigma around cannabis. If lawmakers were more informed on the science they would be able to make better policy that will support both patients and recreational users.
Currently, the government puts a cap on the THC quantity in their LP produced cannabis oil and doctors believe there should be a THC cap on the dried flower. Their logic is that they don’t want the product to become dangerous and assume THC concentration is the determining risk factor, highlighting that THC is damaging on developing brains. However, some patients require Phoenix Tears (which contains a higher amount of THC)in order to treat their illness. Due to the limits imposed upon LP’s, patients have to turn to dispensaries for such forms of medicine.
Out Of Touch Politics
It feels like such a battle to get good cannabis policy when it really shouldn’t be. The public has been loud and clear, the court cases have created precedent, the science is slowly coming in, but the government still continues to be out of touch. They are so far removed from the reality of cannabis, the impact it has, and the community it fosters, that they begin proposing legalization models that will end up strengthening the black market and leaving patients in the dark.
Supporting Research Supports Doctors
As doctors are being approached by increasing numbers of patients requesting medical cannabis prescriptions, more information and guidelines are also required support their treatment methods.
When the medical community and the law makers are clearly out of touch with cannabis, they treat it as a purely recreational and dangerous substance. While cannabis does have potential for abuse, so do many other legal products such as alcohol and cigarettes. Let’s listen to those who have the most experience and to the patients who have the needs. This way we won’t lose track of our main priority.
We at CannaReps sincerely hope to see improvements made in the upcoming provincial proposals and within the legalization conversation as a whole. We are concerned for the patients that we have seen recover and thrive thanks to cannabis, even when nothing else worked. The legalization of cannabis must be done with careful planning and consideration for all potential consequences and affected parties. With the right policy, research and funding, cannabis can reinvigorate our medical system, economy, and scientific understanding.